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Thursday, 12 October 2006
Page: 133

Mr BILLSON (Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence) (11:15 AM) —in reply—Thank you for your invitation to sum up the debate. I would like to thank all those contributors from both sides of the chamber. Many of the contributions remind us about the etymology of the Defence Force (Home Loans Assistance) Amendment Bill 2006, how things have changed and the influences on what encourages and rewards members of the Australian defence forces to join, perform magnificently and then extend their career within the ADF. Many of the contributions, particularly the very insightful and well-informed contribution from the member for Wakefield, touched on those things. There is an interconnectedness of many themes and challenges and I tried to say that our goal should be to make sure that we have the world’s best ADF, involving world-class people that have fulfilling experiences in their careers with the defence forces. There are a range of influences on that, such as making sure that they are properly supported, properly equipped and properly remunerated in a contemporary and competitive labour market.

We must have due regard, as I said in the House yesterday, for the fact that we might recruit the member but we need not only to retain the member but to retain their family. I know your good self, Mr Deputy Speaker Scott, and Mrs Scott is probably as influential as Mrs Billson is, in that I might have many good ideas, but if she is in my earhole, as I imagine if Mrs Scott is in yours, that is very persuasive. This recognises the crucial role of families and the support of families in making sure that the assistance is there for those who are members of the ADF, recognising the many other aspirations they have for their lives.

This particular bill touches on one of those matters. A number of speakers talked about the history and have shown some understanding of the changes not only in the property market and the finance market but in the nature and tempo of what is being asked of our men and women of the ADF. All of these have an impact on how well a benefit such as is embraced in the Defence HomeOwner Scheme plays out, rewards, recognises and supports those members of the ADF.

That complexity and those interrelated factors are many, and that is why the review that the government has instigated to look at the best future shape of the homeownership assistance scheme is so important. But that complexity also means the work needs to be done well, and this bill seeks to provide that opportunity. Of course, we all would have liked this extensive review to have been concluded so that we could seamlessly transition from the current scheme to the future arrangements. But, given the complexity of the issues that have been touched on in the debate, that has not been possible, and that is why we are seeking this extension.

I welcome the opposition’s contribution, where they largely echoed the government’s statements about what we are seeking to do, the aspirations we have for the homeownership assistance scheme for members of the ADF and the influences and options that need to be considered. My colleague the member for Blair has a very substantial population of serving members and their families in his electorate and his comments were quite insightful and very well placed and well informed as well. I commend him for that contribution. The member for Fisher I think addressed some of the incorrect assertions of the member for Barton, talking about military bases being placed willy-nilly around the country in marginal seats, and I am grateful for the member for Fisher’s considered response, because we all know that kind of loose talk is completely unhelpful and undermines the great deal of analysis that goes into placing military installations and equipping them to meet the national security and defence challenges of our nation.

Let me remind us all of why we are here discussing this legislation. The Defence HomeOwner Scheme is being reviewed with the aim of updating the scheme to make it more supportive of personnel recruitment, retention and resettlement. Defence is seeking to identify ways of improving the current homeowner scheme, which has been in place since 1991. Our aim is to develop a contemporary homeownership scheme that will support Defence Force recruitment, retention and resettlement, recognising the changes in the property market, the finance market and other influences on the scheme itself.

The existing loan franchise arrangement with the National Australia Bank was due to expire on 31 December this year. Agreement has been reached to extend the contract by 12 months while Defence finalises proposals for a new scheme. Of course, the Australian Defence Force members may still access subsidised housing loans while replacement arrangements are being contemplated and developed. Accordingly, enabling legislation for that purpose was introduced to extend the legal authority to issue certificates of entitlement until 31 December 2007.

I look forward to being able to bring a revised arrangement for consideration into this place in the new year. All of us in this place would agree our combined intent is to recognise and support our outstanding men and women of the Australian defence forces. On that, we are one. We admire their work, we respect their competence, we commit ourselves to support them in their important work in our national interest and I commend the bill to the Committee.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.

Ordered that the bill be reported to the House without amendment.